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The race must go on

A triathlon isn't just a race. It's a lifestyle. That's the attitude more than 60 athletes brought to the last weekend's Northern Rockies Triathlon in Fort Nelson, the longest-running triathlon in this part of the province.
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A triathlon isn't just a race. It's a lifestyle.

That's the attitude more than 60 athletes brought to the last weekend's Northern Rockies Triathlon in Fort Nelson, the longest-running triathlon in this part of the province.

It's a grueling race consisting of a 1,000 meter swim, 40 km bike and 10 km run in three categories, Individual Olympic Triathlon, Team Olympic Triathlon (two-three people) and Group Olympic Triathlon (four-12 people)

The Northern Rockies Triathlon has been held since Debbie Henderson put on the inaugural event 1999, before handing over the reins to Cyndi Hopkins, Paolo Espinoza and Diane Ens.

Ens has competed in all 15 triathlons.

In the women's category, Angela White fended off a fierce challenge from rival Lori Gilbert to finish with the fastest time of 2:29:59. In the men's category, Jeffrey Bernard finished first with a time of 2:11:22.

Ens said the day went "super smoothly" and she is already excited for next year.

"First and foremost, we're athletes and we want the race to go on," she said. "We look forward to running this event at our fabulous new pool, the last addition to our brand new multiplex. We hope to see a lot more out of towners (next) year, and Woodlands Inn offers super pricing for athletes."

This year included competitors from Fort St. John, Clairmont, Golden, Calgary, Vancouver and Montney.

Ens would like to see more out-of-towners next year. "If you are already training for the Peace River Triathlons, include us in your competition schedule," she said.

The Northern Rockies Triathlon is held annually on the fourth Sunday of June.

The non-profit event is supported by 26 sponsors and Ens admitted that arranging the race is a lot of work, but is well worth it in the end.

In total, they raise over $6,000 to go towards prizes and other expenses. Prizes include a return trip to Vancouver for two, a BBQ, $500 in gift certificates to a sports store, cash and medals. There was also a dinner the night before and and pizza for everyone in attendance on race day.

It takes about three hours to complete the triathlon.

"It's really an amazing experience," said Ens. "After you finish it for the first time, you're so proud you did it. You never thought you could. It's amazing."

For the 61 athletes, training varies depending on the person; some do very little and others train year-round.

The number of participants is down this year from 2013's all-time high of 90 due to fewer participating teams.

"Better health is the biggest thing the community gets out of it," said Ens. "It has spurred Learn to Run programs and Swim Fit Programs. It encourages people to get active, to show people that a triathlon is not only for serious athletes, it's for everyone."

A carb-loading dinner, registration and debriefing was held at the Woodland's Inn the day before the race.

The three organizers have had their work cut out for them.

Their work starts in January when they submit a 20-page application to Triathlon BC to sanction the event. Then they start contacting sponsors and organize other logistics, like t-shirts, online registration, posters.

For Hopkins, the race is an important part of the community because it empowers people with knowledge and confidence that they they can complete a triathlon.

"In any small community, it brings people together," she said.

The committee has three people at the moment, but they're looking to include some fresh faces for next year's race. There are also more than 25 volunteers, without which the race wouldn't go on.

"I think it's important for people to get there and enjoy themselves while they get healthier," Hopkins said. "They should get out there and show their kids what happens. They're just normal people racing."

Results for Fastest Swim: Alex MacDonald (15:57) and Justin Penney (17:13). Fastest Bike: Kristine Bock (1:17:47) and Jeffrey Bernard (1:10:29). Fastest Run: Angela White (47:56) and Jeffrey Bernard (42:54).